On Thursday morning, I woke up on my own. I woke before the alarm, and I woke without Toulouse, and his morning routine of running his paw through my hair and nibbling on my nose to wake me. I lay still in bed, afraid to look for him because I assumed the worst. After a few moments however, he dragged himself out from beneath my costume rack, and mostly only using his front legs, pulled himself to the edge of the bed. A pathetic meow indicated that he wanted to be lifted up. Overnight he had almost completely lost the use of his back legs, and after two days of barely touching his food, he looked really grotesque. I scooped him up, feather light, and lay him on my chest. He looked up at me, and in his trademark style, reached up to place a delicate paw on my cheek. In that moment he spoke clearly to me.
A quick phone call to the vet, and I got up and dressed. From my linen cupboard I pulled a tiny crochet baby blanket that I had found at a vintage shop. I slipped on my shoes, and then scooped up Toulouse, wrapping him up like a baby. He always hated the cat-carrier, and the vet was at the end of my street.
He held on to me, calmly. Uttering only one loud meow as we left the house. I think his deterioration must feel like being stoned because he slowly inclined his head to take in all the sights and sounds as we made our way to the vet.
My heart was heavy. People on the street looked at me strangely. I suppose it’s weird to carry a cat around like an infant. I realized it hadn’t yet been a year since I first adopted him. I felt horribly guilty that I decided not to shell out the $1,000 to give this 90 year old cat daily insulin injections. Maybe he could live another few years with the treatment that he needed?
The sympathetic, soothing voice of the receptionist made my throat close up on arrival. She wisely suggested we settle the bill before seeing the vet. When they showed us into the exam room, there was a black towel on the exam table. The vet was also very kind. He carefully explained exactly what would happen, including the part about expiring the residual air in the lungs possibly moments after he appears to have gone. I’ve seen this in a person, and it’s remarkable how the death of a cat could bring all of those feelings back.
There is something solemn, and powerful, and final about witnessing death. The finality is sad, and somewhat terrifying. To see the total absence of energy, and the complete and utter stillness is unlike anything I can describe. To me, in such moments, it is remarkably clear that our bodies are merely shells. That the essence of what makes us “alive” goes somewhere else when we are no longer.
The vet, who is a lot like Bob Newhart, sedated Toulouse. He then shaved his paw, to administer the slow injection. (What is it that they inject?) He gave him the needle slowly with these words:
“Goodbye Toulouse. You’ve been a wonderful companion, and you were very grateful to have been rescued by Catherine, who loved you and did the best that she could.”
I marveled at how an alley cat who I had barely known a year could reduce me to a red-faced, tear streaked blob of jello.
But what a year we have had…
My constant companion in the face of what has been one of the most significant years of my life, Toulouse has seen the highs and lows, and some truly poignant moments that have unfolded in the Fortress of Solitude. He has delivered tender caresses on a daily basis – a constant source of affection, and I know he’s also delivered psychic messages to one or two suitors who have passed through here. How I wonder now what he has said to them?
Toulouse loved me from the moment we met. Or at least this is the story I create as I am anthropomorphizing him. At the adoption fair, he selected me by delicately wrapping a paw around the finger that I held near his cage, and by casting me a long, adoring gaze. He pleaded with me, and in that moment told me he would work hard at dealing with the mice if I would give him a home.
Animal services found him in the Don Valley, and at the time of his adoption, the volunteers were afraid that he would never find a home to go to. I was already convinced before hearing his story, so it was an easy sell. Though the adoption clinic was a short walk from home, I had to take a cab because he was too big and heavy to carry.
He made good on his promise. The second night he lived with me I came home to find the bloody entrails and tail of a mouse deposited in front of my bathroom.
He was efficient, attentive, affectionate and wise. His comic timing was brilliant, and he was a born romantic.
Only half-jokingly, I told a friend that I hoped his soul would find its way into the shell of a fully-formed adult male.
Adieu mon fidèle chat…